In The Killing Habit, DCI Nicole Tanner joins forces with DI Tom Thorne. Tom's "intuitive" investigations of grisly crimes are put to the test when his boss, DCI Russell Brigstocke, instructs him to investigate a series of cat killings. There's a slim but still compelling chance that this cat-killer might turn out to be something altogether more appalling. Oiling a machine mostly fueled by violence and loss, the scene moves between Kentish Town Station, where Thorne and Sergeant Christine Treasure ("who has a temper every bit as filthy as her mouth") worry about an escalation of crimes they are ill-equipped to solve, to an elderly woman called "the Duchess," who attempts to collect some cash from an ex-friend.
Once the sleek, high-flying city trader but now a criminal on parole, Andrew Evans has been holding people at gunpoint, demanding payment for money owed. When local junkie Adman Jandili is shot, Evans is arrested, suspected of a killing in which he denies any involvement. Brigstocke's theory is suddenly borne out as the case turns into something bigger than straightforward murder. While Tom interviews the cat owners, Nicole Tanner warns that an escalation of the killings could make the fatal shooting of a man on his doorstep look like "a minor shoplifting incident." The team believe the cat killings are part of a pattern already including human casualties, yet they're mostly whistling in the dark--that is until they connect the killer to a series of cold cases, murders of women long since missed.
Billingham's Tom Thorne novels often transcend their brutish, over-the-top plots and the fundamental question of why any real police force would ever tolerate Tom's bizarre behavior and over-the-line investigations. Still, Thorne remains iconoclastic, rebellious and intense. He's naturally drawn to Tanner, who as the novel opens has been aimless since the death of her partner, Susan. Though he's constantly clashing with Helen, Tom is determined to stick to what he knows best. An officer who thrives on instinct, Tom hopes that if nothing turns up, he and Tanner will get lucky and break the case though sheer force of will.
Perhaps the person responsible for the cat killings really is responsible for three recent murder victims. A case that had begun over a week earlier with a few terrible jokes about cats is now a full-on serial murder inquiry. With Evans ensconced for his own safety at Long Barrow Manor, a privately-run secure facility, the killer--determined to stay one step ahead--is communicating with the victims via texts or emails. Tom's best mate, forensic pathologist Phil Hendricks, offers advice, but the problem is that the culprit convicted of the first murder is already locked up.
Chilliness notwithstanding, one does feel for Thorne and Tanner, not the least because they naturally attract our sympathy. Thorne is basically a nice guy who could use a little love. Nicola is full of energy and passion, but Susan's death has emotionally broken her. She has a seeming single friend, Thorne, with whom she shares a dark secret. In the way of fictional detectives, both Nicola Tanner and Tom Thorne have an intuitive genius along with the marvel of quick physical recovery.
Billingham does a good job providing us with the modus operandi of an unusual serial killer who may be finding his victims through a popular online dating website. The novel doesn't disappoint as the author unfolds a spine-tingling finale in which his characters are swept into the cold clutches of an executioner. Tanner ends up fighting for her life in a world where "death always seems inevitable."